WYTHEVILLE — Last year, Clintwood’s football team passed through Wytheville on its way to Salem.
This year, it’s the town where the defending state champs got Marooned.
George Wythe tight end Hardy Lester’s 25-yard scoring reception off a Jordan Byrd pass with 3:52 remaining in the game broke a scoreless stalemate at frigid, windswept Pendleton Field. After that, the Maroons’ defense survived a superb clock-management display by the Greenwave offense to hold onto a 7-0 win for the VHSL Group A, Division 1 West Section title.
“I wanted it to be close. I’m a product of Coach (Paul) Wheeler. I talked to him this week and he told me to play the game to get to the fourth quarter. And that’s what we did,” said George Wythe coach H.S. Ingo, whose squad avenged last year’s 23-13 sectional finals loss to the Green.
The Greenwave (11-2) arguably did likewise. Despite having given up two of his three interceptions to George Wythe defensive back Isaac Baltazaar on two consecutive possessions, Clintwood quarterback Dylan Dahley kept a sharp eye on the clock with less than a minute to go on the final series of the game.
Dahley hit a 17-yard completion to Jacob York, and a great clock-stopping run by Gavan Meade got the Green in striking distance. It came down to the very last down in the very last second, when a pass intended for Austin Turner fell just beyond his diving reach in the end zone.
For a lot of teams, taking it down to the last tick might’ve softened the sting. But Dahley broke his collarbone in last year’s West Section finals and didn’t get to play in Salem. Friday night’s outcome simply broke his heart.
“I just wanted to get my chance to go back and play,” said Dahley, who passed for 69 yards and collected a couple of interceptions for the Greenwave while on defensive duty.
The Maroons (12-1) gummed up the Big Green Machine from the get-go with a stunt package the Clintwood front five had difficulty picking up. The Greenwave were held to 91 yards total rushing.
To make matters worse, senior fullback Robbie Mullins missed most of the first half after sustaining what was likely a pulled muscle in his chest.
Meade, who came into the game with more than 2,000 yards on the season, had 28 carries for 91 yards.
The Greenwave successfully protected the end zone for most of the ballgame, holding George Wythe to missed field goal attempts of 40 and 37 yards. (Clintwood had a 26-yard kick of its own that failed to clear the uprights.) But the Maroons’ pistol offense kept the chains moving and limited Green scoring opportunities with 371 yards total offense.
Joseph Skeens led George Wythe with 139 yards on 23 carries, most of it on the jet sweep. Fellow wingback Dominique Crockett had 86 yards and bullish fullback Justin Snavely rushed for 73 yards, including a 25-yard bust up the middle that was the longest single gain for either team during the scoreless first half.
The 6-foot-5, 225-pound Lester was singled out by Byrd as an intended receiver on the Maroons’ first play of the game, but Byrd directed most of his subsequent throws toward Baltazaar. Lester was anything but invisible at defensive end, however, where he deflected at least five Dahley pass attempts.
“For our 20 seniors, this game has been eating on us all year. We got back at them today,” said Lester, who has committed to play for the University of Richmond. “As soon as basketball season was over, everyone was (in the weight room) working their butts off.”
Lester admitted he was surprised to find himself so wide open on what proved to be his game-winning catch. That, said Clintwood coach Rick Mullins, was partly facilitated by the Greenwave secondary’s busted coverage.
Ingo, however, said Baltazaar called the pattern to his attention, convinced calling a trips route would create an opportunity for somebody. That somebody happened to be Lester.
Sometimes, Ingo said, you need to listen to your kids.
“He knew we had the corner in a bind over there. He had to do something. And the corner kind of got caught in between. Running somebody down in the middle of the field the safety had to stay with him,” Ingo said. “We were very fortunate. We made the throw, (Lester) made the catch and we were able to get that touchdown.”